Collective in its essence and source, “We Are Not Machines” was recorded at HIVER (the 2019 37d03d Artist in Residency and Eaux Claires winter Festival), in a make-shift studio in downtown Eau Claire, WI. Envisioned and produced by Pieta Brown, with S. Carey and Brian Joseph, the music and collective ambient energy demand the spotlight, with the words becoming almost secondary, swerving in like mantras, reminders of things we think we already know. Sparked by a dream and a Charlie Chaplin movie, the song echoes and weaves timeless universal messages and sounds into a powerful living-breathing reclamation. We are not machines...This individual offering succinctly represents what the 37d03d community is becoming and what it is about, with luminous contributions from Ani DiFranco, Shahzad Ismaily, Mike Lewis, Trever Hagen, Erika Dohi, Mary Hickson, Ben Lester, and Eoin French.
Pieta revisits the story of the song…
“In the dream I walked into an empty, ramshackle warehouse to play a show. I remember I walked up and out to the middle of a stage, looked out at the empty room and started singing. There was no gear or microphones. I kept singing the phrase ‘we are not machines” over and over. People started entering the warehouse slowly, and suddenly I could hear voices singing that line with me. The warehouse filled up with people of all colors, shapes, sizes and ages. Many people had umbrellas, and as they opened them I realized it had started to rain in a little bit through the crumbling ceiling.
Months later I was at April Base mixing an album. The studio was buzzing...with artists and musicians getting ready for the Eaux Claires summer festival. One afternoon I came into the little living room where there was a piano with some pedals and reverbs set up for whenever the sparks might arrive. There was no one else in there...more emptiness. I sat down at the piano and started singing that song. It had been in my head, and I was still trying to land it. Around that time Francis (Starlite) came in. Then Mary (Hickson). Then Justin (Vernon) was there and wanted to record the song on his phone as I was experimenting. When I was singing in the little living room, I flashed on the dream, wishing I could hear all those voices singing “we are not machines.”
Afterwards, I let the song drift. Freeway (the album I had been mixing) came out, and I got caught up in that. Many months later, Mary invited me to be a part of the 37d03d HIVER Residency. As soon as I got the invite I knew I wanted to try to record the Not Machines song there with as many musicians and voices as possible. When I went to record it I asked Sean (Carey) if he could play the piano part while I sang. And as we started recording, Sean helped me land the song and the sonic vision for it. And so many musicians and friends that were at the residency came in and added parts, sounds and voices with Brian Joseph at the recording wheel.
A few days later when the festival opened, Sean and I got to play and sing it at the opening ceremony. I love the recording we made there with the collective force of so many musicians and people I love and admire. And I still can’t wait to sing it in a big big place with many many voices.”
Co-Producer Mary Hickson (also Director of 37d03d Events) adds…
“We Are Not Machines was an idea percolating in Pieta’s mind for some time. She told me about it over a year before we actually fully imagined it at Eaux Claires Hiver. The song quickly became the anthem of the festival for all of the artists and audience members that were lucky to attend our last in-real-life event together having witnessed it’s first performance at our opening ceremony. It’s such a sweet and timely gift to the world. It feels like a hug and a reality check all in one - something the world really needs right now. At the same ceremony Korde addressed us all, planting inspiring words for the weekend to set off from. His response and that of the inimitable William Brittelle are a real testament to the power of both Pieta and this song. We are stronger together. Let us all unite.”
Leaving HIVER, the song stuck and more ideas were born. We Are Not Machines, the digital triptych/EP (produced by Pieta and Mary Hickson), expands the collective Not-Machines horizon, exploring variations on a theme. The “We Are Not Machines: Meta Version” is a truly mind-bending other-side-of-the-sonic-coin version, masterminded and arranged by visionary composer William Brittelle. It features vocalists Holland Andrews and Jenn Wasner (Wye Oak, Flock Of Dimes, Bon Iver), as well as the renowned Metropolis Ensemble, which features Erika Dohi, a captivating mainstay of the 37d03d community.
Says Brittelle, "I was frankly moved to tears upon first hearing Pieta's original version of this song and was extremely excited when she and Mary Hickson suggested I create an alternate version. Pieta's song seems somehow to distill a sentiment I and many others had been feeling for a long time to its very core. For my version of the track, I decided to engage with the machine world directly, using auto-tune, walls of synths, sectionalized form, and programmed drums as a foil to Pieta's heart wrenching lyrics and melody. I feel incredibly fortunate to have had the help of Metropolis Ensemble and guest vocalists Jenn Wasner and Holland Andrews, all dear friends of mine, on this project. Our final day of tracking was my last day of IRL art making pre-quarantine. To me, Pieta's sentiment now feels more poignant than ever."
And rounding out the 3 song release is “We Are Not Machine: Body Made of Stars,” a mesmerizing collaboration between Pieta & poet/multi-disciplinary maker Korde Arrington Tuttle under his knotahaiku moniker. Built around a deeply relevant poem by knotahaiku, and offered in part as a response to the “We Are Not Machines” song, it is knotahaiku’s performative reading that elevates the track. With additional production from electronic musician/artist Limit Infrared, “We Are Not Machines: Body Made of Stars” is the first piece to be released from the tripytich. Another 37d03d stalwart, artist Eric Timothy Carlson (Grammy nominated for his visual work with Bon Iver), provides the visual component offering up his drawing “Soil, Mother” to dissect and re-arrange, and even animate his work to accompany the project into the world.
This is truly, uniquely 37d03d.